As we round off 2014, let’s take a look back on some of my favourite books of 2014. Here they are in no particular order:
The Fish That Ate The Whale
Who could have guessed that a historical profile of a banana man would prove to be one my favourite reads this year?
The Fish That Ate The Whale tells the true rags-to-riches story of immigrant Samuel Zemmuray as he goes from banana street peddler to become the CEO of United Fruit. He wasn’t just a regular corporate suit though, this man was the Godfather of Bananas. The means he used to climb and then stay on top of the banana game were effective, but often on the wrong side of the law. Getting in his way often meant being very dead.
But he was an entrepreneur at heart. Hussled to get into the game, and hussled to stay on top.
As a subject, Zemurray is compelling, and the author Rich Cohen does him justice with an utterly unique voice. Truly a great read.
The Obstacle Is The Way
“Our actions may be impeded… but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting.
The impediment to action advances action.
What stands in the way becomes the way.” – Marcus Aurelius
Before reading this book, I had always thought philosophy was the domain of snotty intellectuals. Boy, was I wrong.
The Obstacle Is The Way gathers and organises the principles laid down by Ancient Roman Stoics in a practical how-to book to survive and thrive regardless of the situation.
The way to turn trials into triumphs, the book argues, is to first see the obstacles for what they really are, and then embrace it. Not step around the obstacle (unless there is no other way), but to use the obstacle and turn it into an advantage.
As Tim Ferriss puts it, it is the operating system for life. I’ll have it on the bedside table for years to come.
Billion Dollar Lessons
I once heard a saying: “A smart person learns from her mistakes, a dumb person repeats them, but a genius learns from the mistakes of others.”
This is a wonderful book about failure (and therefore a great chance to learn).
Billion Dollar lessons definitively debunks some of the most popular business strategies from synergy through acquisitions, roll-ups, to expansions to adjacent industries. The authors give example after example of how smart and capable CEOs repeat the same mistakes repeatedly, deluding themselves that this time it will be different and that this time we’ll execute it right.
As it turns out, it wasn’t the execution at all, maybe they (and you) should re-consider if the strategies were really right in the first place. If even one of these cautionary tales saves you and your business a lot of time and money, then it’s well worth the price of the book.
I’ve heard of this book from multiple sources before I picked it up.
The story is based largely on the life of Gregory Roberts (the author) and starts with his escape from prison over the wall between two gun towers in broad daylight. He finds himself a fugitive in Bombay as Australia’s most wanted man.
What follows is one of the most vivid and immersive reads I’ve ever come across. Shantaram is masterfully written, from the fascinating philosophical discussions on an objective definition of good and evil, the exploration of the nature of love, to the depiction of the gritty, realistic and brutal life in India’s most memorable city.
I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the novel:
“The truth is that there are no good men, or bad men… It is the deeds that have goodness or badness in them. There are good deeds, and bad deeds. Men are just men — it is what they do, or refuse to do, that links them to good and evil. The truth is that an instant of real love, in the heart of anyone — the noblest man alive or the most wicked — has the whole purpose and process and meaning of life within the lotus-folds of its passion. The truth is that we are all, every one of us, every atom, every galaxy, and every particle of matter in the universe, moving towards God.”
Tigana is a fantasy novel about redemption of a people, and how the past affects the present. What do you do when warring magicians rips the name of your home from existence, so that none remember it? For the main characters, they fight to get it back.
This book is somewhat hard to review, as many of the reasons why I like it are intangible. There’s something musical about the world that makes it stick in my mind, and a romantic aspect to the premise of the story. Perhaps the greatest strength of Tigana is the ambiguity of many characters ethics. For a genre that can often be faulted as too black-and-white in its portrayal of the good and evil, Tigana manages to create characters that are engagingly grey.
The book also has one of my favourite female characters in fantasy fiction, Dianora, for being beautifully conflicted and flawed, and yet deeply relatable.
Loved this book.
What are some of your favourite books this year?